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Brother Karsh's Column for LetsGoPens.com

Is It Time?

March 6, 2002

It's one of the hardest things to ever know and one of the hardest decisions to ever make. When is it time to move on?

In work, in love, in life, how do you know when it's just over. Whether it's where you live or what you do, who you're with or who you are, how do you know when to let it go and start anew?

It's fear that makes this question so daunting. Is there something left undone, something that's yet to be tried, yet to be accomplished? Is there something, that could turn it around—anything that could make it like it once was?

What if the grass is truly always greener?

Unfortunately, it's all subjective and no self-help book will ever be able to tell you when the time is right. Until you decide that it's over, until you've had enough and make up your mind that it's going to be different, it never will be.

This is what needs to be remembered as the coming months pass, whose decision it really is.

Make no mistake, the question will be asked, it's already been hinted at, and since it's coming, there is no reason is shouldn't be asked aloud now.

Is it time for Mario Lemieux to retire, again?

The answer, from this vantage point, is yes—provided the following criteria are met.

If continuing to play the game of hockey is going to result in significant health problems for Mario Lemieux down the road, he should retire right now. This column suggested it at the beginning of the season, and it bears repeating once more. If this game is going to limit Mario Lemieux's future, it's not worth it. There should be no debate about it, long term pain for short term gain is a bad deal, and it's one that Mario has every right to turn aside.

The stories are all too common, professional athletes who leave the game as giants only to endure decades of pain with knee and hip replacement surgeries on a shockingly regular basis. Such need not be the fate of Mario Lemieux. He's done everything his sport has asked of him and if continuing to press onward is only going to end up limiting his life after the game, going back on the ice would be admirable, but masochistic and unnecessary.

Based on the disclosure to date, it is obvious that there are a number of facets to this latest injury that are either being kept from the public, or are simply unknown. However, if there is well-founded suspicion that serious damage will be done by playing the game, the team should schedule the press conference immediately.

Less grave, but equally as important, is Mario's love for the game. Certainly, his pain has curtailed his enjoyment of this season and that's only natural. Also, for the sake of the team in Pittsburgh, it's difficult to imagine Mario openly wondering if he still has much love left for this league.

However, because the team has tied their future to Mario, right or wrong, his words and actions have that much more weight to them and it's understood that the team would be better off if he kept anything less than uplifting to himself. Add to this that for all the NHL's bluster about changing the game by simply enforcing the rules, this is still a league over-populated with teams and coaches more than willing to have the less talented tackle their way to a low-scoring, poorly played contest, than open the game up and risk getting run off the ice at the hands of superior skill.

If, when he has no one to answer to but the man in the mirror, Mario is honestly unhappy playing this game that is, much of the time, dramatically different than it should be, Mario should also bow out now.

Short of these two things, Mario should rest up and get ready for the NHL 2002-2003 season.

For lack of a catchier title, this has become the Year of the Injury. From coast to coast, top tier talent has gone to the shelf even before the Olympic break kicked in. Since then, it's only been worse. With that in mind, perhaps what has befallen Mario is of little consequence, maybe it's just another nagging injury like those that have become a scourge league-wide. One can only hope.

Still, while it's been impressive to see Mario play through pain for both his team and his country this year, if he is only going to do more damage to himself by reprising the same scene next season, or if he is only going to be on the ice out of a sense of obligation, this soap opera should end sooner than later.

Mario Lemieux is debatably the best hockey player the sport has ever seen. He's won almost every trophy and he's been given almost every accolade. He has also fulfilled any and all of his obligations to the Pittsburgh Penguins many times over. Interestingly enough, these are usually some of the first signs that it might very well be time to move on.

Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com and advocates Mario Lemieux doing whatever is best for the health and well-being of Mario Lemieux. He's earned that—and much more—for what he's given this team. Brother Karsh is also guessing that Mario Lemieux will see one more Stanley Cup Championship series from ice level before he retires for good.

Back to Karsh's Column List


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